So I wrote my first actual blog on my shiny new blog site, lockerroomhero.com, about the Phaneuf trade, focusing less on the other players in the deal but more on Phaneuf himself. The blog has a few graphs and pictures that don't really go hand in hand with this format so I will list my conclusions on the deal but I encourage you to check out the actual read @ http://lockerroomhero.com...haneuf-trade-a-necessity/
I hate to kind of shamelessly try to plug in my blog but there's no way that I know of to get the same layout here. It gets Hockeybuzz the page view just right here and I am far from "competition". Its a new site with one single blog post lol so I'm not in it for the money.. So I apologize if I'm breaking some sort of rule here at Hockeybuzz, not my intent.
Here are some pieces of the blog:
In a move that seemed to come out of nowhere, Toronto sent Dion Phaneuf along with minor leaguers Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert and prospect Cody Donaghey for Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen, Colin Greening, prospect Tobias Lindberg and Ottawa’s 2nd round pick in 2017 with no salary retention for either side. It was a deal driven by financials and differing timelines of competitiveness.
First off, Ottawa seems to have accomplished a lot of their goals with this trade. They shed a ton of dead weight salary-wise for the next year and a half, which is huge for a budget team, and were able to grab a quality defenseman with term to help make the most of Erik Karlsson’s prime years without giving up much in the way of future assets. However, I don’t think Ottawa is getting the defenseman they think they’re getting, and it will be interesting to see them deal with the final years of that contract. Pure speculation here but if they were able to lose him to an expansion draft a couple years down the road, that would be quite the coup.
More importantly, though, it seems to me that this is a huge win for the Leafs.
There have already been a lot of pieces devoted to breaking down the other players in this trade, so I’m going to focus on the man himself: Dion Phaneuf. Because, despite the claims you might have heard, here and there, that some of the pieces that came back can be fixed with some Mike Babcock magical pixie dust (patent pending), this trade is really about getting the Leafs out from under Phaneuf’s massive long-term contract ($7 mil AAV for 5 more years) in exchange for taking on 3 bad contracts from Ottawa that expire the summer of 2017, along with a prospect and a 2nd rounder.
The extras Toronto threw in amount to little more than minor league depth for Ottawa and allow Toronto to keep several contract spots open. The oft injured, but serviceable, Michalek may be able to be flipped into a late pick if he strings together some healthy games and the Leafs retain some salary. Cowen is truly awful but has a very buyout friendly contract which I’d imagine the Leafs take advantage of this summer. Greening may be one of the warm bodies the Leafs employ to run out the rest of the season and then bury in the minors next year. And the future assets gained by Toronto in the trade are solid but nothing to write home about. A 2nd round pick is nice for a team trying to restock for the future and Lindberg is a decent prospect. I don’t pretend to know much about him; but if you want a more knowledgeable opinion I would suggest Scott Wheeler’s piece from PPP.
Now here comes my “hot take”: I would have done this deal without the pick and prospect. I would have essentially dealt Dion Phaneuf for negative value coming in, let alone dealing him for nothing. Here’s why:
A preemptive note – this isn’t going to be a character assassination. Personally, I don’t buy the bad leadership narrative some Toronto media loved to throw around. See here (or here). Unfortunately, this is often what happens to the captain of a bad team in the hockey mecca that is Toronto. The accounts of the actual players he was leading generally portray Phaneuf as a great mentor for the younger players and an excellent ambassador of the Leafs in the community. For whatever criticism he drew, fair or not, I don’t think it can be argued that he didn’t show up to work. He tried his best every night as the team floundered through some ugly seasons. In those regards he will be missed.
But this also isn’t a eulogy. Dion’s contract was a dark storm cloud in an otherwise bright future for the Maple Leafs. While they added a little bit of salary this year and next (unless Cowen is bought out) the long-term cap space the Leafs gained for themselves in this deal is crucial. Add in the fact the Leafs didn’t have to retain any salary makes this move a game changer in the Leafs rebuild. With only 1 of the 3 salary retention slots open due to the Kessel and Gunnarsson deals, retaining salary here would handcuff the Leafs from flexing their financial might in the future.
But why would I have dealt him for nothing or less? Sure his contract is expensive but the Leaf’s defense is weak as it is. Having a workhorse, albeit an overpaid one, in Phaneuf back there is far from a bad thing, right? Well yes and no. There are a lot of differing opinions on Phaneuf as a player, with some insisting he is still a #1 D buried on a bad team and others thinking he wouldn’t even be a top 4 on a contender. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.
When watching Phaneuf, it seems like he has lost a step or two as he’s aged, making his skating, especially his pivots, much more labored. This hasn’t helped in recovering from the occasional ill-timed pinch Leaf fans have grown accustomed to. Still known for his booming shot, Phaneuf has continued to put up solid point totals and remains a weapon on the powerplay.
I go on in the actual blog to show how Phaneuf's play for the previous three seasons has been pretty miserable, even for a guy playing had minutes with not much help. This is with point production and possession proxy stats (P/60min, CF%rel, SCF%rel). He shows an obvious uptick this year that some might attribute to Babcock's coaching but I delve deeper and find its more the fact he is playing easier minutes with an excellent defense partner in Gardiner. I try to investigate in pinning what Phaneuf is exactly, coming to below conclusions on him as a player and the trade in general.
Appears as if Phaneuf is not a bad player by any means, but these were his 28-30 year old seasons. He’s turning 31 this April and will likely continue to regress significantly in the next 5 years he’s under contract for. The final two years of which I’d imagine he is better suited on the third pairing while still being paid like a #1 defenseman. Not exactly bang for your buck.
The 5 years left on Phaneuf’s contract would hinder Toronto’s moves in the short term but also hurt when re-signing of their young stars in the future. Morgan Rielly is up for a substantial raise this summer and in the next 3 to 4 years, all of Nylander, Marner and the probable top 5 pick this year will be coming off of their cheap entry level deals looking to get paid. At this point I would expect Leafs to be extremely competitive and have added to their young core a high price free agent or two. We don’t know what Dion Phaneuf would be in the last couple years of his deal but I would wager it won’t be pretty.
So what can we take away?
1) Much of the criticism of Phaneuf’s play is warranted. While Ottawa is getting an offensive top-4 defenseman and shedding a lot of deadweight salary through next year, they may be in for a rough ride as Phaneuf ages. The real dollars of his contract decrease, important for Ottawa, but they will be still on the hook for $5.5 million of actual salary in his final year.
2) As a team not looking to contend for at least this season and next, getting rid of Phaneuf is a no brainer. This move makes them worse right now which isn’t a bad thing as they try to land a top pick.
3) The long-term financial freedom this move creates is key to re-signing the future stars of the team and making a run at any prominent free agents (know anyone?)
4) Trading Phaneuf officially hands the defense’s reigns over to Gardiner and Rielly. If Leaf fans need a reason to watch in the upcoming painful months, this is one of them.
If you made it to the end, thanks for sticking with me! I hope future posts don’t get as long but I felt like I had a lot to cover. Until next time!
Thanks for reading and I hope you find the actual blog informative